Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Le Blond, la Brute, et le Manouche - Video

France, Italy, France, Italy, Greece, Italy, France, Austria, France, Italy, Austria, England, Austria, Itally, Switzerland, France, Spain, Mexico, France - My last two months...

This time of year is always hectic, it seems like the majority of my work and non climbing commitments all come at the same time, which is a good thing as it leaves a lot of the year free, but can sometimes be frustrating when climbing has to be put on the back burner, and you feel yourself growing fat from all the eating out and sitting on your ass in the car/plane.

However, decent rest can be just as important as decent training, and despite feeling lazy and unfit, your body may actually be happy for the R&R and excess calories, rewarding you now and again with little surprises on the occasional visits to the cliff.

Les Joncasses...

One of these surprises came last week at my local crag of Les Joncasses, a short, steep cliff of perfect compact limestone just 25min from our apartment in Grabels. I was back from a few days of traveling and meetings, with one afternoon free before we had to leave again for the final round of the Lead world cup in Spain - not exactly a perfect scenario for climbing hard projects. Still, it would be nice to get outside on some real rock, and good to re-familiarize myself with my projects, ready for more serious attempts next year.

The Pinch...

The route Le Blond, la Brute, et le Manouche was bolted last year by three friends of mine, Adrien (le blond), Nico (la brute) and Anto (le manouche) but was always too intense. The route is very bouldery, with the difficulties beginning at the 2nd clip and continuing until the junction with "Progression" (an 8c to the left). The moves themselves are very difficult, and clipping even more so, with the intensity building and building until the crux of the route arrives at strange horizontal collonet in a roof. From here, a few powerful moves lead to a precarious, run-out clip, from an opposing sloper and heel hook. Fluff the clip and the floor will be uncomfortably close, clip it and you are almost home... just the crux of Progression still to do!

At first try of the day I could not climb the individual moves, which was a bit of shock considering I had been attempting to redpoint on my previous visit just a few months before. The holds felt too small, the moves felt awkward, but I accepted this was just the result of my crazy busy last few weeks.

The Crux Collo...

After a little rest I decided to make a try from the floor...

To read more, and see the video, head over to JPClimbing

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Source 8c+!

When I first moved to Innsbruck, The Source was known as “the Sprung project”, due to its crazy all points off dyno in the middle of the route. I tried the project during my first visit to Schwarze Wand, pulling through the quickdraws to arrive in the jump, then failing miserably on the move, again and again and again, finally lowering off thinking it would be a damn hard route.

The infamous dyno! - Photo Riky Felderer

Two years later, and a lot has changed. The project has become The Source, 8c+, and I find myself back at the black wall (Schwarze Wand) a little fitter than before. After climbing up to, and sticking the dyno on my first red-point try, I fall in the next boulder just 2 moves above. It turns out that the dyno is only the beginning of the troubles, and that from here to the top, the route is a series of continuous and varied boulder problems.

See the rest of the post with more pictures over at JPClimbing

Monday, 14 November 2011

Transmission.. Joy Division

I can finally (so happily) say, that last month I made the first "1 push" ascent of Joy Division - The big wall in Val di Mello I have been working on all summer. The story of the ascent is long, too long for right now as I am rushing out to go training, but thankfully, The North Face has just released an incredible video along with a small write-up and some pretty pictures.

You can find it all over at TheNorthFaceJournal

Thanks to all the people that made this possible, it was a journey I will never forget.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Only Mistake

It was surprisingly easy to wake up at 5am. The sun was still hiding behind the opposite hill, but the oppressive heat was instantly noticeable. Breakfast went down and final items were packed in relative silence, words were not really needed, we both knew what to do.

The walk to the base of the wall was as horrible as ever, the uneven ground unbalancing you at every step, bringing your stumbling sleepy body uncomfortably close to some rather large drops. The sanctuary of the ancient and crusty fixed lines allow a little relaxation and we prepare ourselves for the long day to come. Chalk bag, quickdraws, mini trad rack, shoes... food... water... one last check... off we go.

I jumar up the first 30m and begin warming my body in the top of the first pitch. Things go well, and after a short time I link the entire upper part from no hands rest to belay. I take this as a sign that things are ready, and lower back to the base hoping the crux boulder passes just as well.

It doesn’t!

The first time I arrive in the hard moves, I am instantly aware that the small rough crimps don’t feel like they should. The more I squeeze the slippery holds, the more spooge seems to ooze from my fingers, and the more I feel the tiny crystals eat into my skin. I fall on the last move of the boulder, unable to control the delicate, stretched barn-door.

I lower down and try again, doing my utmost to hide the doubt creeping into my mind. I fall lower than before, then lower, and lower, and lower. With every attempt my skin disappears, and chances of overall success grow slim. The doubt is no longer hidden, but staring me fully in the face, as far as I am concerned the dream is practically dead.
After a longer rest and a few well spoken words I try again. I focus on perfection, each move must be executed just right, there is no point thinking about what comes higher until you succeed on that right in front of you. The last move comes and goes, the boulder is done, just 20m of technical slab climbing to go, where I could really fall off any move.

Another look at the first crux... Photo Riky Felderer

A protruding quartz seam allows an awkward no hands rest – not comfortable, but enough to chalk my hands, wipe my shoes, and calm my nerves. I know I can climb this section, i did it just earlier today, but now there is so much more at stake. I begin moving through the now familiar sequence, the nerves make everything feel even more delicate than usual, but I force myself to keep moving, knowing any pause is likely to be a false friend. The hardest section comes and goes, but I don’t ask questions, simply climb into the next.

I reach a positive quartz side pull, one of the few in cut crimps on the route. From here I must place a high left smear and slap my left hand 1m higher to a good hold in the crack. The move is scary because it is dynamic, forcing pressure onto the little vertical edge, which is worrying due to the fragile nature of this rock. During the working process, I had inspected this hold and decided, despite its potentially delicate appearance, it was very solid. It didn’t move, there were no cracks, nor did it sound hollow - everything pointed to green. I took the hold, and prayed I had made a wise decision, raised my foot, slapped my hand, and caught the next mini jug. Relax! Just a few more easier meters to the end...

SNAP! The righthand sidepull broke off the wall!

Read the rest of this post with more pictures at JPClimbing.com

Monday, 19 September 2011


The nights were a cold and uncomfortable time during my last visit, partly due to mistakenly bringing only a sleeping bag liner rather than a full bag, but mostly just because it was f@%king cold for August! Not this time however - shivers were replaced with sweats, it was uncomfortably obvious we were in the midst of a little heat wave.

Chilly times during my first visit (Photo Riky Felderer)

Today was supposed to be the first attempt at the “big push” but motivation was not super high as I rolled out of my sticky sleeping bag into the full morning sun. Coffee did its usual trick of making the world seem a better place, and I started the preparations for later in the day, which essentially involved relaxing and eating as much as possible. This is one part of big-walling that I really enjoy! I usually try to watch what I eat – not quite counting calories, but certainly not eating to excess. However, there are enough difficulties to pass on a wall without having to worry about an empty tank, so I take full advantage of the opportunity to “scientifically” stuff myself, all in the name of good preparation.

For the full post and more pictures go to JPClimbing.com

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

I Remember Nothing

Time in Insbruck is training on the rock and in the gym, which always provides a nice balance of motivation and humiliation. We began preparing ourselves for the next trip to Val di Mello, trying hard to pack well, taking the minimum amount of kit, for the smallest loads up that damn hill. With 150m of static fixed in place and some food and supplies stashed from the time before, I was hopeful for a sub 30kg pack this time round. The addition of a portaledge however played havoc with this plan, and we set off again with packs almost as heavy as before.

Testing our ledge (used to belong to Greg Child!!!) on the wall, thanks to Hansjorg for the kind loan

Free-climbing a hard multipitch route seems to be a lot about planning. Firstly planning what you want to do, then how you want to do it, as the styles and ethics of the big wall world are more complex than I could have ever imagined. Once you have set your goal, the planning then moves on to how best to achieve it – what training do you miss, what time of year to try (cool conditions but short days), what time of day to start, fast and light, slow and heavy, speed or comfort... the list goes on and on.

You can read the full post with more pictures over at jpclimbing.com

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

New Dawn Fades

The difference between clean and dirty on this wall is immense, and should have been expected on an alpine wall of this exposure, parts of which rarely get wet. I spent a long time cleaning the 4th pitch and checking out the moves, thankfully to find that it was not so bad. Sure it is hard, sure it is a little scary, and there are parts where one must be very cautios with large chunks of rock. However, there are holds – positive pieces to grab with hands and feet, success will be more dependent on personal strengths and stamina, than positive relations with the Onyx, god of friction.

The 1st pitch. The end of the crux boulder leads into 30m of delicate and sustained finger layback/slab! (Photo Riky Felderer)

After feeling satisfied with Pitch 4, I returned in the evening shade to try Pitch 1. The difference was noticeable from my earlier tries in the morning sun, nothing incredible, but enough that I could start making small links and better understand the subtleties required. I worked out all the sections from bolt to bolt on the upper crack, and after a lengthy amount of time, solved my problem of the bottom boulder...

Read the rest of this post along with more pictures over at my new site - JPClimbing.com

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Since Canada I have been in real adventure mode; exploring, questing, learning, suffering, progressing and resting, usually in the middle of the mountains, with no phone or internet. The reason - Joy Division, a 20 pitch route on the Qualido wall, Val Di Mello. The result – sore muscles, sorer skin, and a fast track course in Big wall bumbling.

A Brief History of the route...

Climbing on Qualido dates back to 1978, and as expected, a whole host of mixed (aid and free) routes appeared over the next few years. 1989 was a very productive year, witnessing the birth of 3 major new lines, TRANSQUALIDIANA, LA SPADA NELLA ROCCIA, and MELLODRAMA.

The challenge then turned to freeing the routes, and by 1996 the wall saw its first 8b in the form of FORSE SI, FORSE NO from the Czech alpinists Igor Koller, Peter Machai and Miro Piala. At three pitches long this may not seem like the most significant contribution, but its importance (and difficulty) should not be underestimated, as it opened the possibility for a free route of the entire wall, through the most obvious and beautiful central dihedral.

The next big advances in free climbing on the Qualido came at the hands of Simone Pedeferri and other members of the Leco Spiders. After freeing LA SPADA NELLA ROCCIA and opening BLACK SNAKE, Simone set to work on JOY DIVISION, a combination of FORSE SI, FORSE NO, 8 new free pitches of MELLODRAMA, and the classic path of Melat. After 20+ days of cleaning, bolting and exploration, Simone was able to free the route over three climbing days, lowering to the valley floor to sleep between attempts.

I first learned about Joy Division after the 2011 Melloblocco. At the time I had ideas of beginning a journey into multipitch, but very little experience, and so I really had no idea of how the difficulty of these things added up. It sounded like fun, and I liked the idea of doing something really big so I made rough plans to return later this year.

Caroline and I in Les Chemins du Katmandou, Pic thanks to Francisco Taranto Jr

After completing a few “training” projects in various different styles, like Les Chemins du Katmandou in France (short and hard), and Lucifer’s Lighthouse in Canada (longer but easy) I figured I was ready to give Joy Division a shot. I wanted to try to repeat the route in as good a style as possible, climbing onsight and ground-up wherever I could, making the whole thing ideally in one push. I guess it is good to have very high hopes and expectations, but there is also a lot to be said for being realistic about your chances and ability. For those with any experience of the wall, this onsight in a day dream would have sounded as crazy as I now feel – a good indicator of just how unprepared for such a challenge I was.

Through my whole life, I have always been one for jumping in at the deep-end, which granted, has caused me a lot of failures, but also taught me to learn fast and think on my feet. I have never been fond of starting at step one, learning the basics and progressing gradually from there, instead I preferred to focus on anything I needed to know to stay alive, then jump in around step 6 or 7, often falling on my ass, but usually getting back up again.

The Qualido Wall, with the arrow showing the first belay. (Pic - Riky Felderer)

Joy Division has so far been one of these experiences. I set off onsight, and by the third bolt was sat on the rope, with no Idea of how to climb the featureless rock above. The thought the rock might be dirty had never entered my mind (testament again to my inexperience), so after hours of cleaning the smears and crystals on the first pitch I started again, to find it just as perplexing as before. A 45m 8b granite slab! I hadn’t climbed anything this side of vertical for way too long. I could not manage the individual moves – linking the pitch seemed further away than the moon.

20 pitches to the top, and I’m stuck in the 1st – great start. The onsight dream is dead, I accept this will be ground up at the very best and so continue through pitch 2 and 3. At 7b and 7b+ these should be a relative stroll, but I only manage to onsight the 2nd by the skin of my teeth, and fall once in the crux of the third – booooooooo hooooooooo.

Simone Pedeferri on the beautiful "corner in-a corner" on the 2nd pitch. (Pic - Riky Felderer)

The 4th pitch is supposed to be the monster! Simone spent the morning telling me to be cautious for the climbing is hard through big loose blocks. He warns me that the ropes pass through the line of any falling rock, and that the chance of cutting a cord is a real possibility. 8b (possibly + or even c according to Simone) with a chance to fall to the floor from 100m fills me with dread, I get Caroline to move the belay to the shelter of the corner, and I set off with 3 ropes (2 lead lines and a tied off static) for an extra bit of safety. Again, the rock is dirty, and there are certainly some big hollow blocks that don’t inspire confidence, but a cautious mix of free climbing and A3 hooking leads me to the sanctuary of the 4th Belay. From here we rappelled, fixing lines to the floor to allow for easier cleaning and working the following day.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Newfoundland Expedition Reports

And we begin...

Wow!!! One month since my last post! So what have I been up to? Keep reading and find out...

Blow Me Down is 1,300 feet of granite rising directly out of the Atlantic. Situated in Devils Bay, a wet and windy place indeed on the South coast of Newfoundland, Blow Me Down is several hours from the nearest road and civilisation, accessible only by boat.

Like my Chad Expedition from 2010, Blow Me Down was the brain-child of Mark Synnott, a very experienced American climber and alpinist. Mark has climbed in more crazy places around the globe than I know exist and has a reputation for guaranteed memorable times, be it from epic or adventure. I was psyched to travel again with him, and placed all my faith in his knowledge and experience, neglecting my own research figuring he would likely have everything covered...


I said before leaving that my main aim for the trip was to learn. To learn from two of the most experienced big wall climbers in the world how to be fast, efficient, but above all else safe. Mark and Alex are obviously wildly different climbers, with different focus’s, objectives and strengths. I had climbed with them both in the past, but never in a big wall environment, and was excited by the prospect of watching them work and picking up some secrets.

One of many unexplored cliffs in the area...

The next few weeks would turn out to be possibly the least productive of my climbing life. Raging winds, torrential rain and perpetual fog would allow for only 2 full climbing days in 10. The rest of the time was spent in base-camp, sat on our ass, staring at the sky and praying for it to clear. Good weather was the one thing Mark couldn’t secure, but thankfully, as expected he nailed everything else. The soggy grimness was much better than it could have been thanks to a TNF 2 Meter Dome and a plentiful supply of food.

Base camp scene... soggy :(

There are really not so many new stories to tell from the trip, instead I will re-post some of the expedition dispatches in case anyone missed them over at The North Face blog.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Caro's Katmandou

She did it!!!

Hard work, determination, and a little helping of pride really do work wonders. After the first session on Les Chemins de Katmandou, where she barely managed the crux move 1 in 5 tries, Caroline topped out on her ascent of the entire route early last week, 4th ascent and 1st female ascent (as far as I know), a fine effort indeed.

We headed back to La Jonte to meet up with Facancisco Taranto Jr for a photo shoot after the Millau Natural Games. Caro had just finished a 3 day team training session in the French Pyrenees, meaning firstly we couldn’t arrive in the Cliff until 4pm, and secondly she was exhausted. With little chance of a full ascent, we settled with fixing lines up the whole route for Francisco, and shooting on the top pitch with the evening light. I surprised myself by climbing the top pitch again on my 1st try of the day – its really quite amazing at how much more energy you have without climbing hard pitches to get there.

Caro had a play on the pitch and managed to figure out a new method for the crux; normally taking a 2-finger pocket as a mono would make things trickier, but in this particular case, the inverse seemed to apply for Caro. Content with making one of her crux slaps static, we all headed down to the car and campsite, grabbed some of the local speciality “Aligot”, and went to bed, ready for yet another early start and an 8b for breakfast.

6am feels especially early after a shitty night’s sleep, but at least in France you are rewarded for such an unhealthy hour with warm, soft, freshly baked bread! Conditions on the rock felt horrible and I struggled to second the first pitch. Caroline had just dispatched it on her 1st try of the day, complete with screams, wild slaps, and falls without falling. Having now experienced the conditions for myself, I really understood why!

I joined her at the belay and climbed through to the top of the 7c+, not without a big fight I might add on the awkward final moves around the arête. Caroline arrived perhaps 10 minutes later and seemed to be feeling good. We arranged the belay, exchanged a few words, and she set off for round one.

Move after move, I was constantly amazed at how well she was dealing with the incredibly reachy and powerful climbing. This pitch is her anti style, but she compensated for the long reaches by working her feet up very high, and on the few occasions where even this failed to provide enough, solved the problem with an all out jump!

She arrived at the mid-way rest before the crux and prepared for the upcoming intensity. After a few moments she signalled to be ready and set off, fumbled her feet, missed the next hold and was off. I joked with her not to worry as this move was one in every two, she tried her best to smile and joined me back in the belay.

One in two was right, as next try she cruised this move to arrive at the end of the crux section. A long move with high feet from a one pad under-cling mono brought her to the intermediate edge. After a small adjustment of the feet, all that remained was a 5cm bump (although at full stretch) to a good 3 finger pocket, and probable victory. She paused a little too long, and fell with her fingers in the hold – merde!!!

One of my personal little tricks I have discovered over the last year is to imagine that a route continues after the top hold, or that there are harder moves still to come after the actual crux. This helps me to deal with the “summit fever” – that sudden panicky pump that takes you by surprise when you excitedly realise the end is “right there”. I told this idea again to Caro in the hope it might help in even the smallest way. She was so close to finishing the route, but the sun was coming fast, she was getting tired, and all her hard work was close to becoming nothing. Multi-pitch brings so many more elements to climbing – these extra elements make the final result all the more worth, but can cause quite a lot of heart ache along the way!

Caro set off, and from my perspective looked to cruise the route, moving fluidly, really flowing through the hard moves. From her perspective, things were a little different... She admitted feeling tired and weak, the worst of her 3 tries of the day. However, she knew this was to be her last try, her one and only chance to finish this journey and she needed to make it count. She told herself the route was the final of just another comp, and whilst ultimately not important in the wider scheme of the world, it was of the highest importance in the “there and now” and she needed to find a way to make it work, to dig deep into the reserve tank and find a little magic. The huge smile across her face as I joined her at the top told me just how happy she was with the result.

A magic day.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Big, Scary, Monsters

The 4th pitch roof of La Cardaire

The next project is underway, and has already begun gathering speed. I have started to become more and more intrigued by the world of hard multi-pitch and big walls and over the last few months have started to make my first visits to this world.

The eventual idea is to create something very long, very hard, and very scary, but this final phase is still quite a long way off in the future. Now is the time to begin developing the necessary skills, by attempting and repeating certain existing routes, some classic, some obscure, in the style of the separate components of the master plan.

The first of the training routes fell a few months ago, in the form of La Cardaire, a semi-traditional, 4 pitch wall in St Guilhem. The 160m route is capped by a big roof at the very top, and was first climbed as an route at A2, 6b, using only pitons for protection. The route has aged a little, and in doing so the pitons are perhaps not as proud as they once were, but standards have also improved, and the route now goes free at 7a,7b,7c,8a.

The 3rd pitch and questionable 2nd belay!!!

I took a mini trad rack with me during my on-sight of the route with good friend Nico, but It was not really necessary. There is enough fixed gear in the wall to climb in relative comfort, granted some of it very old and far apart, but still enough. Take a few slings for belay on the trees, and get ready for some exposure through the final roof!!!

The next part of the project was something a little harder, a 3 pitch route in La Jonte called Les Chemins De Katmandou. Bolted by Laurent Triay and climbed by Sharma in 2002, the route packs quite a punch in its relatively short height of 100m. A 50m 8b leads to a 20m 7c+ and finally a 30m 8b+ up the bulging headwall. The climbing on the 1st pitch is great and is worth doing in its own right, but the climbing on the 3rd pitch is simply exquisite – a contender for the best route I have climbed on limestone!

Caroline following the 3rd pitch

The 3rd pitch is very dynamic; long move after long move on perfectly sculpted pockets. After the first day on the route, I was not so hopeful about my chances of climbing it quickly. I was struggling to do some of the moves on the headwall and didn’t quite see how I would be able to link it all together, especially after the addition of the first 2 hard pitches.

Caro and I returned a few days later, and thing could hardly have been more different. After warming up, I climbed the 8b pitch on my 1st try, and the 8b+ pitch on my 2nd, after a slight refinement of the method for the crux. Caroline also made great progress on the route, despite several very long moves on the 3rd pitch. We will head back soon for her to make a try from the floor and probably shoot some pictures in the process.

Looking up the 1st pitch of Katmandou towards the 3rd pitch headwall!

It’s strange how your performance can change so drastically from day to day, something I must try to remember in the future when routes feel too hard for me. I am happy to have got it done so quickly, and excited to begin the next part of the project... Newfoundland

I thought I would have them for Chad, I was certain I would have them for Pembroke, but for one reason or another the Helium Friends just kept me waiting. Everything was frustratingly close, all the components were ready in boxes in Llanberis just waiting to be put together, but this is the really slow and complicated part and with orders for 10’s of thousands, the guys and girls in the factory certainally had their work cut out.

Finally, this morning I collected a box from the local post office and got my hands on a set. They look pretty, and feel light, so a great start... Next month I will be on expedition and will have my first chance to try them out for real.

One final thing – also in the box was a set of Astro Quickdraws, and praise the Lord, they are finally coming paired in Silver and Red, rather than the usual single colour. It is such a small detail but one I feel makes a big difference – no longer will I be grabbing the wrong end whilst clipping from a pumped panic. Burs from bolts and skinny ropes do not play well together!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Sun, sea, speed boats and secret beaches – my last weekend in Sardinia.

2am was not a happy hour for waking up, and was even less happy when I walked out of my door to pouring rain and a flat battery in my car. With my brain still cloudy from sleep, I struggled to think how I would fix this problem and still catch my soon to depart flight, from Munich, two hours drive away.

The garage was closed, I had no jump leads, and the airport shuttle had already left... things were not looking good. The €300 taxi fare seemed like the only option as OAMTC would likely take too long, but then just as I was about to bite the bullet, around the corner came a bright yellow car and all my problems were solved.

The man clipped on the jumper box, my car sprang to life, and I set off to Munich with the rain still falling hard, focusing on not stalling the car and repeating the same epic all over again. I arrived in time, caught my plane, and was stood in glorious Sardinian sunshine by 8am. Next stop Maddalena

Friday was spent driving around Maddalena and Caprera with my host from Villa Olivia, Davide. Davide was born and raised on the tiny island, and after an early career as a mountain guide, he returned to run a beautiful B&B overlooking a tranquil secluded beach. Davides love for the island and its climbing is evident in his enthusiastic approach to his work. In a few hours he had shown me several incredible looking projects that almost tempted me to break my rest day, but my sore skin sent an obvious reminder every time it touched rock, and so I made do with planning the next few days over a cold beer on the beach.

The official reason for my trip was to guide the winners of a recent TNF competition. They arrived on Friday evening after a little delay with flights, and we headed to a typical Sardinian restaurant for a feast of pizza, pasta and seafood. By the time we had finished eating and caught the ferry back to Maddalena, it was the wrong side of midnight, and I was not looking forward to my 7am alarm, which would be followed by a very, very busy day.

The next 24 hours went something like this. Amazing Sardinian breakfast and coffee, drive to the harbour, pack and board the cute little rubber boat, then sail to a nearby island for the first bouldering, getting the shock of your life when the cute little thing took off like a rocket. After discovering the first amazing boulders of the day and climbing a few great new problems, we departed for the next island, not happy to hear the warning of rough seas.

Davide warned me that things were going to be exciting. The seas were two levels above what they would normally take clients out in, but because I was a “strong man” he felt things would work out. The little boat can only sail through swell this big if it keeps moving fast, this way the boat can bounce over the tops of the waves, rather than the waves pouring over the top of the boat. We were lucky to have a fantastic capitan who seemed to possess a sixth sense for the movement of the ocean, but even with Mario’s expertise, things got a little hairy!

With Mario at the wheel, my two clients took the back which left me and Davide to balance on the front. With the help of a rope from the nose of the boat we tried to brace ourselves against the speed and changes in direction, yet stay bouncy in or legs to compensate for the sudden rise and fall as we crossed waves of various size and shape. This was terrifying at first, but became quite fun once the initial shock had passed, later turning into a pure endurance exercise as the minutes passed by. It was imperative to keep focus, as every time you thought of taking a sneaky break and relaxing, a rouge wave would rock the boat nearly sending you overboard.

The first crossing took around 35 min and brought us to the main island for the day, a truly beautiful place. We spent a few hours climbing on the boulders by the beach before later moving inland to explore a little deeper. Wow, just WOW, this place is really jaw dropping, and during my brief exploration of a few 100m of coast line, I saw some of the best, hardest projects I have ever seen. Think or formations like castle hill, but made of granite, and you are on the right track. I will certainly be back in the future...

Our bodies were exhausted, minds were tired and skin was sore. If my bed had been there, I would have happily fallen into it, but we still had a long way to go. Another channel crossing took us the wrong way to Corsica, which meant visiting another new place, eating great food, but an even longer journey home, in the dark!

The difference in the dark was like night and day (Boom boom)! No longer could you see the waves coming towards you, it became an effort of anticipation. The minutes ticked slowly by as we raced across the black water, occasionally becoming fully airbourne from a bigger than average swell. After 10 minutes I felt finished and struggled to see how I could keep this up for much longer, but time continued to pass, and I continued to stand. 20 minutes and things were still the same, I began to think how similar this was to climbing long endurance routes. You feel like death and can’t imagine how to continue upwards, but as long as you don’t give up and keep battling slowly forwards, it’s amazing how far you can go. Until at some magical moment, you arrive in the port, battered and broken but finished... until the next time.

The following day took us to explore some of the projects I found on the first day in the relaxed and tranquil forests on Caprera Warming up was hard after the activities of the day before, but my body eventually began to feel like it was supposed to, and I got on with the main events. Two top class boulders were climbed, beginning in glorious juggy huecos under a roof, and climbing out two steep arêtes on slopers. The second line in particular was three stars of anyone’s money, and was one of the rare boulders that actually requires a knee-bar.

After succeeding on the standard start, I set about making an extension into it, beginning in my first problem and climbing tiring moves through the hueco filled roof to reach the beginning of problem two. Four tries falling off the same move finally brought success on my fifth attempt, making for one of the best boulders I have done and possibly the hardest on the island.

For my last few hours on the island, David took me to see his “monsters”, an amazing project on amazing rock, that actually turned out to be three lines in one. I cleaned and tried the lines for a short while, but despite managing to climb the various starting sections, couldn’t figure out a way to breach the top slopey section shared by all 3 problems. 25degrees is certainly not ideal conditions for bad granite slopers, so I guess it will have to wait a while for my return later this year...

Friday, 20 May 2011

Caroline Ciavaldini - E8 ground-up!

With all the commotion after the Muy Caliente/Pembroke raid, followed by Melloblocco, and finally the wonderful Quello Che Non C'e - I almost completely forgot to write about Caroline’s own amazing trad achievement...

The World Cup season is on its way and so training for Caro is getting heavy, but she managed to find a little spare time to fly to England to support me. After I finished with Muy Caliente and the good weather remained, she decided it was time for her to take the lead, and have her own Pembroke Traditional adventure.

Her first trad experience was the classic E3, Pleasure Dome. The climbing was easy and so she could concentrate on spending time to figure out the correct protection. She waltzed along the route, her appearance of complete control only disrupted from time to time when pull-testing gear and a nut would pop out and hit her in the face. E3 is not cutting edge, but it far above the level of the average English climber and almost unimaginable by most as a first trad route - a good sign of things to come.

The next day she wanted to try something harder, and decided to take things to the top, choosing an E8 called Point Blank, that I had climbed earlier in the trip. E8 is the highest level ever been climbed by a Woman in the UK, and on the 3 or 4 times it has been achieved, it has come after the common “headpoint” style of prolonged top-rope practice.

Random, but what better way to celebrate than a birthday game of Paintball - note the orange jumpsuit for our aiming pleasure!

Not only did Caro plan to climb an E8 as her second ever trad route, but she wanted to try it "flash" - first try without any pre-practice - something never before done by a Woman, and only on rare occasion by a few men. Most people would probably think me crazy for letting her do this, but after climbing with Caro every day for the last year, I knew her style, her ability, and how strong her mental control; I was confident she could do it.

She prepared herself at the bottom, and calmly set off to tackle the 40m of hard and scary climbing above. Climbing perfectly; calm and controlled, powerful when needed, relaxed when not, she placed her protection well, and soon was committed to the final hard movements. Fr8a climbing, a long way above her last protection... she looked solid, perfect, but at the final moment just one move before a good hold she slipped from her feet and screamed!

15m in the air before the ropes held her secure. As she spun around suspended in space I was happy she was OK and lowered her to the ground to tell her well done on an amazing effort. The "french proudness" is still something that I don’t fully understand, and rather than be content with an incredible attempt which was so close to success, all Caro did was pull the ropes down and begin climbing again. Even with the adrenalin of the fall making her shake, even with the fatigue in her muscles making her arms feel heavy, all she knew was that she had failed, that she should not have failed, and there was only one thing she was going to do about it.

Another Random - Festa della Placca

She finished the climb about 20min later, having stripped and re-placed all the gear on lead! Her 2nd ever trad route and the first (AFAIK) ever female E8 without practice! Amazing! I was so proud. Sorry for lack of relevant photos, I was too busy belaying, but Dave managed to snap a few. Check out next months Climb for some crackers - I wonder if the lob-shot will make it in...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

5.10 Quantum

My skin is dead after 3 days in Val Di Mello but all is not lost as for the first time in almost 1 week, I have solid, reliable internet access. Many emails need to be read and written, but as I am lazy and have a short attention span, I decided on a break in the shape of this mini review of my favourite shoe, the FiveTen Quantum

So what shall I say, apart from the obvious point of being purple and downturned... Hmmm, maybe this picture can explain a little... my Quantum collection, 3 sizes, boulder, routes, and big wall – these days they are all I wear.

Out of the box the shoes are already good. A little “clumpiness” is expected for the first few sessions, but I was surprised by how quickly these shoes felt “broken in”. The fit is snug, downturned but not too aggressive, and reasonably wide across the front.

The heel feels a little low-cut at first and I was worried to have my usual “heel slip” issues, but actually they have turned out to be more than secure – great in fact. Im not really that gifted with using my heels, especially on really technical placements, and whilst these heels will not work miracles, they have succeeded in surprising me on several occasions, by staying put in awkward and difficult hooks.

Now on to the business end! The toe feels to me the most precise 5.10 toe I have used, and popping off holds unexpectedly is very unusual. The shoe is a medium stiffness, a little too soft for me if I am honest, but stiffer than 5.10’s other recent offerings and so I am making them work. At least with the downturn, the shape shoe holds your foot in place and so the lack of stiffness is not overly noticeable. I mentioned before that I have several sizes of Quantums and that these are now (pretty much) the only shoes I use for all my climbing styles. That last statement should give you an idea of precisely how much I rate these shoes.

Daddy Cool, E8 - Photo David Simmonite

Improvements – I have already mentioned that I would personally like to see the shoes a little stiffer, other than that, some rubber on the toe to help with hooks would be a nice little extra. There is not so much that I would change, in general I’m pretty psyched J

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Do You Know Where Your Children Are? E9?

This route escaped my day to day blogging from Pembroke... and so with a little time on my hands thanks to a Mello-enforced rest day, here it is. Pretty good timing actually as the route saw its first repeat courtesy of Neil Mawsons last weekend. Its always nice to see your routes getting attention, I hope more people follow in Neil's footsteps.

Picture from the first ascent - David Simmonite

Before I begin, I want to ask public opinion of the name of the route. Do You Know Where Your Children Are? is quite an in-depth/obscure reference between friends, which I fear will be lost on 99.9% and may end up being thought of as just a bit shit. Its closest contender was The Hangman's Daughter, which will be obvious to most as the prequel to From Dusk Till Dawn. At the time I thought this was perhaps too cliché, but now I am starting to reconsider...

So there it is, Do You Know Where Your Children Are? or The Hangman's Daughter? Where does popular opinion sit?

After the success on Dusk Till Dawn, I was ready to step things up, it was time to try the project. I felt that if I could make it to the pockets at the start of DTD, I could climb to the top even if I was tired. That meant simply being able to climb a wet E6/7 with rotting fixed gear, directly into a run-out fr8a+ - childs play ;)

We arrived in Huntsman’s a few hours after low tide and so the first few meters were almost dry after their last bath. The same could not be said for the next part, which was badly affected by seepage. Low down the protection was ok, which was a welcome relief as the moves were damn hard, at one point involving fingertip monos in both hands! After this, the moves became a little easier and the gear disappeared – the remains of the shaft of a once proud peg looked apologetically back at me.

I arrived at the separation point, marked by a yellow thread. I had been forced to replace this earlier that day after the original had ripped out in my hand. This was a stark reminder of how we should always show caution with fixed gear on Sea Cliffs. This thread is crucial, and without it, you are looking at certain ground fall from the moves above. On first sight, it looked ok, and I could easily see how someone would have clipped it on an on-sight/flash – potentially setting themselves up for a serious accident. This is probably not the right place to discuss the details of these complex issues, but I feel its important they are addressed soon, by the “correct” people, whoever they may be?

Picture from the first ascent - David Simmonite

I recovered quite well on a pair of steep jugs, and after fiddling in the 3 micro-wires (1 good, 2 questionable) felt in with a high chance of sticking the next section. Long move, strange hold, bad feet, long move, strange hold, bad feet... you get the picture. In the middle of this section you slap into a big fat sidepull, which due to being a bit better than the other holds, serves as a rest point before the final hard section. From this sidepull you can also place some gear – a micro-wire threaded over an old rusty peg, and a decorative nut in your previous slopey left hand slot which has a tendency to fall out.

This gear is a bit of an unknown quantity as it was untested even with just body weight. If it holds, you will be ok, it it fails, well, you might still be ok, but it would be a long and scary few seconds before finding out. A few small crimps and more bad feet bring you to the redpoint crux. After matching the footholds of the crux of DTD, you must toe-in on a high left edge and make a LONG rockover to the glorious pockets!

I almost began to relax, but fortunately realised that I was only halfway through the crux of DTD, with only one hand and low shitty feet. A few more seconds of focus brought me to good holds and good gear. I was significantly more tired than before, and as I collected my thoughts and was thankful to have climbed this section before as I now had familiarity with the holds and moves. Knowing that the rest of the route should cause no further problems allowed me to really relax and enjoy the experience. The climbing on the lower wall is superb, some of the best rock and moves I have climbed in a while, and I felt lucky to have been in the right place, at the right time, in the right shape to do it.

As for the grade of the route, which I’m sure will sadly be the first, and in some case only thing people are interested in. My opinion is that the level of climbing is a step up from similar routes in Pembroke, and is a little more “dangerous”. There is a medium run-out through the entire crux to reach the peg, which may or may not hold. After this you climb a further few moves (redpoint crux) to join DTD, where you still have to climb the crux of this route to reach the next good gear. Climb DTD to the top but without the bomber gear in the crack, which is not too much of a concern at this point. If the peg rips, I have no idea what would happen – to be honest, I never thought I would fall so didn’t take the time to check the dimensions out.

I am certain someone could flash the route with relative ease, and if it had been an existing route, I would have given it a good go. The climbing through the crux is complex and a little blind so would make for a difficult on-sight, but as ~8a+ is not exactly the living end, someone fit could hang around for a while to figure things out. The main thing I want to stress is just how cool the climbing is, wouldn’t it be nice if for once people talked about how pretty it looks and how motivated they are to try it? Maybe I spend too much time living on my little pink cloud, oh well, it’s nice up here, I think I’ll stay...

Get down there and check it out.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Muy Caliente E10 - Flash, so close...

Whilst it might have seemed to many people that I had dropped off the face of the earth (and I would probably include some of my sponsors, friends and family in those people), I was simply taking a step away from what I knew, and wondering how differently things would appear from another viewpoint.

Jacob Schroedel

I knew that things would change, they had to - the trouble was I just didn’t know quite how. I wanted to better myself by training my weaknesses, but knew that since my strengths lay in trad, that is where I should eventually point my focus. In the beginning, time seemed plentiful and I did not concern myself with the finer details of the future, but as weeks turned into months, months into years, I began to wonder what exactly this future would hold…

Then one day, not unlike many others, news reached me of Tim Emmett making the first ascent of “Muy Caliente”, Pembroke’s and Wales’ first E10, and all became clear. I’m not really sure why the idea first came to me, as it was so far above what I had achieved before, so far above what anyone had achieved before, that it should have struck me as ridiculous and been dismissed immediately. But there it was, planted firmly amongst my brain cells, and it began to grow - the idea to attempt to “flash” E10.

I knew I needed to develop many parts of my climbing, not only the obvious ingredient of my fitness, but also things like my mental approach, sequential memory, reactions under pressure etc. Things started slowly and became more structured as the time grew near. It never felt too intense as I was never 100% focused on the goal, which may sound a little blasé, but was something I decided early on because of how improbable the goal was. The chance of failure was so high for many reasons, and as with all flashes, you only ever get one shot! The main goal, I told myself, was to go and climb the route. This would be a big enough achievement, being one of only a few confirmed E10’s and far away from my previously preferred style – anything else would be a big bonus. After all the hard work was finished and all the planning had been made, all that remained was to try.

Before throwing myself in at the deep end, I decided to sharpen my trad skills with a few days of classic cragging. “Ghost Train” (E6), “Hysteria” (E5), “Out of my Mind” (E5), and “From a Distance” (E7) were all ticked and I felt good – time to try something a little harder.

The first of the E8’s to fall on-sight was “Point Blank” (E8), a long and sustained wall climb with good spaced gear and big air potential. The climbing is around Fr8a and so would normally be a fairly comfortable on-sight, but the lack of chalk and confusing nature of the rock made for an exciting time on the top wall.

Point Blank - David Simmonite

Next up was something at the other end of the spectrum, a bold E8 slab on the sandstone of Carreg y Barcud. I flashed “Daddy Cool” (E8) after cleaning the route from my ab line, which I was especially happy with due to the nature of the climb. The climbing is easy, but falling is not an option, and despite the danger I stayed cool and composed, making my 3rd E8 without pre-practice.

Daddy Cool - David Simmonite

“From Dusk Till Dawn” (E8) looked amazing! A beautiful flowy wall of Pink and White Limestone, climbed via fun looking moves with bomber protection. Unfortunately, the bottom 2/3 (Terminal Twilight) was wet, but fortunately, there were enough good holds to make it possible, and after a little fight I got stuck into the main event. The moves were as good as expected, and I flashed the route with a big smile on my face.

Climbing “From Dusk Till Dawn” introduced me to my current favourite route in Pembroke, the project wall that would soon become “Do you know where your children are?” (E9). This smooth white wall would lead from the start of The Black Lagoon, directly into From Dusk Till Dawn via a series of hard reachy moves of exceptional quality. From a good thread at 12m the climbing gets hard and you run it out to an old rusty peg. Thread this with a nut, tell yourself it is solid, and commit to the remaining hard moves (crux) to join the pockets of Dusk Till Dawn, which after the moves below come as a pleasant relief.

I felt fit, I was climbing well, and felt completely happy climbing far above my gear – it was time to get serious. The first stage of the process involved watching my friends climbing on the route and trying to remember as much information as possible.

They told me about the handholds, the footholds, how each move felt, and where they thought I might find hard. I tried to process all their advice, re-arrange it into an understandable order and make it second nature. Once I began climbing, any pause to try to remember a move would cost me valuable energy, any hesitation on a slappy move might break my rhythm, and any incorrect hold might make me fall, making all the hard work go to waste.

I woke up feeling nervous, the first time in a long time. I warmed up feeling nervous, ate lunch feeling nervous and abed in feeling nervous. It wasn’t so much the danger that was getting to me but the fear of failing, blowing my one chance at the thing I have invested so much in. On-sighting and flashing are different to every day climbing as there is only ever one chance. One shot, one opportunity, if you mess up you mess up forever. Say the conditions are bad, the rock is greasy, a hold is wet, your too tired from the route before, your skin is sore, mentally tired... the list goes on, lots of things to think about!

Or is there?

One thing I keep hearing, and keep saying, is when you are truly climbing well, your mind is empty. Almost as if you are temporarily existing on a different plane, you stop thinking and begin to flow. Thinking about not thinking is an obvious contradiction, and so to help me out I called on a little mind and motivation control, some pounding Breakbeats for my ears. I don’t usually climb listening to music, but regularly use it to help with motivation during training and figured it was worth a try. I pressed play, entered a different world, and started moving up.

The lower wall flowed just like I hoped it would, a hard section of moves with small holds and bad feet did not faze me and I arrived at better holds knowing that I could rest a little before making the moves to place the gear. It’s strange to be in such a dangerous place and not even think about the danger; 9m above the gear and 19m above the floor are not comfy numbers, these are the times when you need to be your most relaxed and do what is necessary to make yourself safe.

The nut was unobvious and a little awkward to place. Even when seated well it just didn’t look right and I placed and replaced it several times. When finally I was happy, I made the next awkward sequence to clip the thread and place the cam, and carried on directly towards the final boulder. This is where it all came down to; this is where I had been focused on all along.

Muy Caliente - David Simmonite

The bottom section was generally simple and secure climbing, if you were strong and stated calm things would most likely be ok. But the top, the top was a different story. Technical, balancey climbing on awkward holds was not what I wanted to deal with after all the mental and physical effort below.

I was happy to find the two rest holds comfortable, allowing me to recover and focus on the section above. Things felt good and I was happy, but as I looked down at the future footholds, worry started to grow inside me and I began to feel heavy. The handholds were becoming greasy, recovery had stopped, I forced myself to move.

The left foot was small. I perched on it, reached the left sidepull, and was surprised by how small it was. I tried to take it like Caroline had told me, but couldn’t find the position and decided to push on regardless. The next foot was almost non-existent, but stuck with a little faith allowing me to move my left foot up to a small edge. Here is where my planned sequence failed, I couldn’t find the body position so decided to “feel” instead.

I lifted my right foot to a very bunched position and suddenly realised I was in reaching distance of the finishing hold. I almost couldn’t believe it and excitedly started moving my right hand towards the incut edge, surprised at how solid I felt. As my fingers came close to the hold my body position shifted and I began to tip away, I quickly reached out for the hold, catching the very edge with my fingertips as my left hand exploded off the sidepull. A tiny moment where I half believed I had caught the hold came and went. That empty feeling in my belly told me I was falling. I screamed and swore. The dream was dead.

I felt the little Daemon growing inside of me. I didn’t sleep well, and was distant to say the least during the next morning. My mind was full again of thoughts... What if I had rested longer, why didn’t I take the sidepull correctly, and what if I had slapped faster? Whilst useful from an analytical point of view, these thoughts did nothing to change the fact that the flash had failed. I needed to take the positive things and move forwards, learn from my experience and plan my next attempt. Which is where things get complicated again, as I found the idea of getting back on the lead quite frightening.

I thought about taking a few days of rest to give my mind and body time to relax, but with every hour that passed the little Daemon grew, and I was well aware that he could grow to be quite a size by the time I returned. I needed to get it out of the way, I knew I could do it, I just needed to be even more focused than before. The new knowledge gained would be useful, but it was of the utmost importance not to be blasé. The route would feel hard and needed respect, I expected this and was prepared to give.

My music went on, a different mix from Yesterday, Krafty Kuts – Fresh Kuts volume 2. The first 10m passed as expected, the threads were clipped, I rested, next stop the top…

The run-out was fine, and I arrived at the gear pretty fresh. Conditions were not great, but I compensated by climbing faster, moving quickly from hold to hold, not allowing the grease to build up. The rest holds before the crux were soon in my hands. I would have moved almost straight away but I needed to stay for a few minutes to allow a numb finger to regain feeling. I looked at the holds, looked at the feet, but this time felt light instead of heavy and committed to the moves with fresh enthusiasm.

I took the sidepull as Caroline had suggested, this time my fingers found the correct place and my thumb pinched the vital spot. My feet worked in the same way as before, and in no time at all I was back at the final move. This time there was no hesitation, my body locked in position, my hand reached up to the edge, it was finished!

David Simmonite

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Dusk Till Dawn E8 - Flash

The Bottom of Terminal Twilight looked like a river, which seemed to put an premature end to my plan of flashing the beautiful “Dusk Till Dawn”, an E8 established last year by Dave Pickford. Hopeful that the slimy torrent was simply the result of rain before my arrival, I asked Dave about his experience on the route, only to find out he had been forced to wait until late summer for the beginning to dry in order to make his ascent. Merde!

Dusk Till Dawn (traverse in from the above the orange thread on the left) and the full line of the project (begins from the low right chalk)

I remembered hearing a rumour about a potential direct start, so with some time to kill one day I decided to lower down the wall to look for myself. After lowering past the existing section of DTD (I still had dreams to flash this route so trying it was off bounds), which looked even more beautiful close up, I began searching out the holds from the featureless rock and was surprised to find a complete sequence. The route would begin up The Black Lagoon for the first 13m, and as the rock changes from murky grey into pinky white, move directly up the wall to join DTD at the end of its initial traverse, 10m above. From here, one simply has to climb directly into the crux of DTD, without any of the bomber gear, and finish up this route to the top of the cliff.

The moves were hard but all possible, and the start was in slightly better condition than Terminal Twilight, making the whole line seem very possible given a little concentrated psyche and effort. The only thing that held me back, was the fact I still wanted to flash DUD, and by devoting myself to this new line, I would be throwing away that chance. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that there was a serious runnout during the hard section, which would quickly turn out to be a very serious runout if the rusty old peg I planned to tie off turned out to be as unreliable as it looked. Scary!

A few days passed and still no rain, I hoped and prayed that TT would be dry(er) but from the cliff top, all seemed the same. I decided to lower in to the leap anyway just in case my long sight was deceptive, it wasn’t. Water was still running down the cliff, but over enough “big jugs” that I thought things might be possible. Caroline joined me at the bottom, this would be her first “real” experience of belaying hard trad and I wanted her to feel as comfortable as possible. I gave her a quick briefing of what I planned to do, where I expected it to be hard, and where I planned to place protection, gave her a quick kiss and set off, trying to appear as relaxed as possible.

Copyright David Simmonite

Unfortunately, the bottom of the wall was still dripping from its recent submersion, and despite how positive the holds were, the 6b moves right off the floor came as quite a shock causing a few grunts to escape my lips. After prolonged shuffling up the wet rock, which was a little spicy at one point due to the demise of 2 pegs , I finally found myself at the junction with Dusk Till Dawn, a good rest and bomber gear.

From here the route moves right for a few moves into the centre of the wall, after which it climbs directly to the top via a series of strange holds and good rests. I tried to remember everything I had seen in the video of Dave Pickford (Psyche 2), internalising the sequence of moves whilst focusing on my breathing. A quick thumbs up told Caroline I was ready, and I stepped right with a long move into a two finger pocket. I will not go into too much detail, but will say the climbing on this section is some of the best and most enjoyable I had done for months. Perfect holds, pleasant interesting moves, and bomber gear – the only thing missing (according to Caroline) was a section of steep tufa! I guess you can’t have it all…

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Daddy Cool E8 - Flash

Years ago I remember seeing a picture of this route in an old copy of Climb. I recall a mirror like wall, a solitary climber looking longingly at an even more solitary looking peg, and all above a horrible stepped rocky landing. The route looked great, yet horrendous at the same time, and I was fascinated, intrigued, but also repelled.

My first hard traditional routes were usually bold and insecure. I was too weak to climb hard routes any other way, but after coming very close to slipping from a dangerous slab route in the Peak District shortly after my 18th birthday, I told myself from that day forward I would try to avoid insecure death slabs, and only climb dangerous routes when there were actual holds to pull on. I needed to know that my physical level was higher than the climb, so even if something went wrong I could dip into the reserve tank and pull a little harder to get out. You can’t pull harder on smears – if your foot slips, you are gone!

The weather in South Pembroke was a little damp and so to salvage the day we decided to drive north to the miniature city of St Davids. Flicking through the guide, we decided on Carreg y Barcud as it was possible to climb a lot of the routes at all tides, and it just so happened that Carreg y Barcud was also home to “Daddy Cool”.

After the successes of the last few days my confidence was pretty high, but at the same time I felt very intimidated by the description of the route from the guide and the internet. “Protectionless slab”, “increasingly thin moves”, “first gear at 45ft and the landing is pretty shocking” were just a few of the descriptions running round in my head. I didn’t like the idea of top-roping the route, but perhaps going for an onsight/flash was a little reckless as I was completely unfamiliar with the style of this wall and rock, nor had I climbed any slabs, let alone dangerous ones for many years.

As I popped my head over the top of the wall, I got the fear! From the top it was difficult to gauge the size of the wall, all I could see was the lack of features, the lonely peg, and the crashing waves far below. Abbing in was a different story, as to the left of the static was a line of perfectly chalked edges. Suddenly the wall changed and became much friendlier, the wall seemed smaller, the holds looked great, and I instantly found myself in a much happier place.

After un-coiling the ropes and sorting my gear whilst waiting to be joined by the others, I looked up again at the previously friendly wall, only to be greeted by terrifying blankness. I could not see a single trace of chalk, not even tell where the route lead, as all of the holds were now perfectly disguised with their surroundings. This place was like a hall of mirrors, making reality morph and transform depending on how you looked.

After warming up I began to feel more comfortable as my familiarity with the wall grew. I climbed a line to the left of “Daddy Cool”, which offered fantastic and hard climbing well protected by good wires, and was spoiled only by a tiny bit of vegetation on the upper wall. From this line, I could see some of the holds on Daddy cool and they looked ok. I remembered something Charlie had said about the moves being quite easy up until the final move to the break and started to feel a little bit more confident about my chances without pre-practice.

The line of Daddy Cool!

As Keith was taking a rest day and I wouldn’t have the comfy option of watching him try the moves, I abed back down the route to clean and chalk the holds as at least I would be able to visualise the moves better from the ground, and also be certain that the holds were free of lichen. The definitions of on-sight and flash seem clear at first, but on closer inspection become very grey areas. I believe it comes down to personal judgement and common sense, which is always going to leave room for abuse, but should also excuse us the ridiculous task of creating strict, finite criteria for an infinite number of situations.

For me, abseiling down a route to clean a holds sits somewhere between the two. As long as you don’t touch the holds/try the gear, you will receive more information than an on-sight, but much less than a good flash, where you learn the sequence, the holds, the correct gear, and many other useful little titbits.

I set off with an idea of the sequence that turned out to be around 50% correct. The other 50% was made up on the fly, which was fortunately not too taxing as there were several good crimps where you could stand a lot of weight on your feet. After placing a psychological friend in a vertical flared crack, and having a mini-moment with an “about to break off crimp, I arrived at the crux. A series of 3 awkward moves, the last of which was the most awkward of all lead to the sanctuary of the mid height break and much needed gear. I calmed my breathing, climbed to the last crimp, placed my right foot uncomfortably high on an uncomfortably small edge... and 2 seconds later, I was safe.

Rather than clip the peg on the right, and then traverse for a few more meters rightwards to the easier E6 6b, I chose to skip the peg, and climb 2 moves left into the harder E6 6c. The line seemed a little more direct, and avoided the use of (what seemed to be) the only piece of fixed gear on the wall, plus the climbing is fantastic, hard, and quite sustained which made for an overall great continuous route. The obvious challenge of the direct finish remains, but will be one hell of a piece of slab climbing!